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McGonagle, Mass. House pass bills to remove outdated and offensive terms in state laws and change Mass. Rehabilitation Commission’s name to ‘Massability’

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On April 3, 2024, Rep. Joe McGonagle, along with his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, passed two bills concerning terminology. One bill updates the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) by removing out-of-date and offensive terms related to persons with disabilities. One bill renames the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) to “MassAbility.”

“As lawmakers, we know that words matter,” said Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation is our latest effort to ensure that our state laws do not use antiquated words that carry negative connotations, words that also serve as a reminder of past injustices. I would like to thank Chairman Livingstone and the entire Joint Committee of Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, as well as Governor Healey and the bill sponsors, for their work on this important legislation.”

“In 2024, we as legislators in Massachusetts should absolutely be the ones leading the way in inclusivity and ridding our laws of outdated terms,” said McGonagle. “This bill is a relatively small act that will make a difference for so many in the Commonwealth. I’m very proud of my colleagues for choosing to make this bill a priority.”

“The name ‘MassAbility’ will help to reduce stigma and better reflect the strengths and capabilities of the people we serve,” said Governor Maura Healey. “We’re grateful to Speaker Mariano and the House for advancing this critical legislation.”

An Act relative to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (H.4396) removes out-of-date and offensive language from MGL when referencing people with disabilities. The language in the bill removes all variations of outdated terms, such as “handicapped,” “disabled” and “retarded.” The bill replaces these terms with current terminology, such as “person with a disability” and “person with an intellectual disability.” Additionally, the term “autistic” is replaced with “autism” in reference to Autism Awareness Month. Originally filed by Governor Healey, the House also passed An Act to rename the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, MassAbility, to reflect the self-determination and limitless possibilities of people with disabilities (H.4528) and to update the outdated terms included in its enabling statute.

On April 4 the Senate referred H.4528 to its Committee on Ways and Means and H.4396 to its Committee on Rules.


Statements of Support

The Arc of Massachusetts: “The Arc of Massachusetts is grateful for the passage of the Archaic Language Bill. This legislation has been a priority to The Arc and we appreciate the efforts made by the sponsors of the bill and our legislative champions at the MA State House. Thank you to the past and present Chairs and members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Special recognition to the self-advocates who led the way and never gave up. Words hold power! The language people use is important and influences thoughts and attitudes about people and their capabilities. The use of inappropriate language in society and in our Massachusetts General Law perpetuates negative stereotypes about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This legislation will not just create legal change but also social change. The Arc strongly supports the passage of this bill as a sign that Massachusetts is listening and will support people with IDD by using thoughtful and positive language in the laws.”

Disability Law Center Executive Director Barbara L’Italien: “Removing archaic language in legislation plays an important role in reducing social stigma and ensuring that state agencies and courts view people with disabilities as entitled to full, equal, and integrated lives in the community.”

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